The United States leads the world in incarceration, with over 2.4 million people behind bars—a 500 percent increase over the past 30 years. The United States has 5 percent of the world population, yet approximately 25 percent of its prisoners.

More than 60 percent of the people in prison are people of color. For black males in their twenties, one in every eight is in prison or jail on any given day. Three-fourths of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color.

With the emergence of “Secure Communities” and other race-based injustices, one in six Latino men born today can expect to be incarcerated in their lifetime.

Prisons have exploded with the "war on drugs": more than 500,000 people—nearly a quarter of all those incarcerated—are incarcerated as the result of a drug conviction. The number of drug offenders in state prisons has increased thirteen-fold since 1980.

In 2008, 37 percent of black high-school dropouts were incarcerated. If these trends hold, 68 percent of African-American male high school dropouts born from 1975 to 1979 will spend time living in prison at some point in their lives.

Nationally, approximately 5.3 million Americans are denied the right to vote because of laws that prohibit voting by people with felony convictions. Felony disenfranchisement has resulted in an estimated 13 percent of black men being unable to vote.

In 2009, the federal government held over 380,000 people in immigration custody.

Prisons devastate our communities: over the last two decades, state spending on prisons grew at six times the spending on higher education. Nearly $70 billion is spent annually on prisons, probation, parole and detention centers.

From 1997 to 2007, the number of women in prison has grown by 832 percent to over 65,000 in state or federal custody. Two-thirds of these women were the primary caregiver to minor children.

Although Latino women make up only 9 percent of the U.S. population, they represent 32 percent of women in federal prisons.

In 2009, there were 7.2 million people under some form of correctional supervision.

Today there are over 92,000 juveniles in federal, state, and local custody.

What can I do about it?

The Campaign to End the New Jim Crow has put together a study guide for Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, which you’re encouraged to read with a book group.

They also offer these action steps:

  • Organize or join community watch programs to monitor the police
  • Challenge your legislators to end all collateral consequences to a criminal conviction
  • Demand that criminal justice policies and practices be racially neutral
  • Support efforts to shift the criminal justice paradigm away from punishment and retribution to healing and transformation
  • Petition your representatives to redirect prison resources to community development

Build the movement

Bring your expertise, skills, ideas and interests to the Campaign: Visit their website, find them on Facebook, or attend a meeting in New York.

 

Compiled by The Campaign to End the New Jim Crow

Sources: Daedalus; Drug Policy Alliance; NAACP; Sentencing Project; Women’s Prison Association; Prison Policy Initiative